Undermines? You Need to Calm Down.

Undermines? You Need to Calm Down.

Postman wrote: “…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” In a blog post, unpack the implications of this quote, particularly the idea that Sesame Street undermines traditional schooling. What does Postman mean here, and how might we extend this idea to the broader effects of AV technologies in schools, from the earliest AV technologies all the way up to the current culture of smartphones and the push towards BYOD and the integration of smartphones in classrooms? What are the grander implications of the array of AV technologies, from film projectors to apps and interactive educational shows to personalized devices and tools like YouTube (Khan Academy, Crash Course, etc), when we think about the format of schooling? How do AV technologies change the way we might think about school?

Yesterday, while I tried to squeeze in a workout while my baby napped, I put on an episode of Sesame Street for my 4 year old. She happily obliged and enjoyed every minute of the episode, which was titled “Cinderella’s New Shoes”. It features Lucy Liu as Cinderella and focuses on kindness throughout the scenes and songs with the beloved characters. It’s safe to say that screen time is a point of contention for most parents, but shows like Sesame Street makes plopping your kids in front of the TV for a while feel more… purposeful. This particular episode taught about the letter “s” for “shoes”. In contrast to some of the other content out there, Sesame Street feels like a great educational option for those times that you (or your kid) needs some down time.

Free Elmo and Cookie Monster Mascots Stock Photo
Elmo and Cookie Monster Mascots photo by Matthis Volquardsen on Pexels

As I began to reflect on Postman’s quote about Sesame Street (see above), I wondered what the traditional idea of schooling really means. This Wikipedia page describes that the primary purpose of traditional education is “…to continue passing on those skills, facts, and standards of moral and social conduct that adults consider to be necessary for the next generation’s material advancement.” I suppose also that the traditional environment of school is a room filled with students of similar age in desks with a teacher at the front, perhaps using a chalkboard or textbooks to aid in a lecture about a given topic. Postman says that “Sesame Street undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents”. With the incorporation of catchy songs, fun characters, bright colours, and engaging storylines all wrapped up in an audio-visual format, I’d have to agree with Postman. If educational content is being delivered this way versus it’s traditional counterpart, it most definitely challenges these original and foundational methods. I can guarantee that if I had tried to stand in front of my 4 year old and lecture her about the letter “s”, it would not have been nearly as well received as it was from the show.

Bored Monsters Inc GIF by Giphy

I think that what Postman means here is that the power that a show like Sesame Street has, which represents any well-crafted media delivered through AV technology, to engage viewers is untouchable by previous methods of teaching or communicating. 21st Century AV references numerous times in this article that AV tech engages the senses in multiple ways, thereby more deeply immersing the learner in the process. So yes, Sesame Street certainly does undermine traditional modes of educating, which simply don’t have the capability to engage the senses in simultaneous ways the way that AV technology can.

The term “undermine” here also implies that schooling or education has a format that is not supposed to be messed with. More historically, education was a luxury only available to those in higher, wealthier social classes, and the opportunity to obtain education was a privilege. Education would have almost had a prestigious element to it since only certain people could access it (if we dig deeper into that idea, there are still ways that this poses a problem, largely now related to digital equity). To undermine, in a sense, would be to take away some of that prestige and exclusivity. As schooling of this nature gave way to public and open education, more people could learn and learning became more common. What once was a privilege of a select few became an expectation of pretty much everyone. And with that shift, plus that of the digital revolution, morphed the traditional “version” of school in a drastic way.

Free teacher tablet math illustration
Teacher Tablet Math Illustration by HtcHnm on Pixabay

This article by REGENERATIONMUSICPROJECT outlines the evolution of AV technology in entertainment, education, and communication. It discusses the transformative power of AV tech to ultimately help more students learn and to help them learn better. Isn’t this what we all want?

“Undermine” carries a rather negative connotation. To undermine something means to “gradually weaken or destroy”. But if programs like Sesame Street have undermined education and traditional schooling, I struggle to see this as negative. Interactive learning, immersive experiences, and increased engagement are just some of the benefits AV technology has brought to the educational table, not to mention things like maintained connectivity when the whole world shuts down. As technology continues to improve, and things like AI and VR develop and dip their toes into the classroom environment, I can also see how the scales can be tipped too much in an undesired direction when wanting to maintain the goal of teaching and learning. These extremely innovative and engaging technologies, while they can provide educational opportunities far beyond what ever could have been imagined before, could arguably distract from the end goal of passing along information, if that is indeed what the goal is.

There is no denying that the development of AV technologies from their earliest introductions in the classroom have elevated learning and continue to do so. Reflecting on my own teaching, incorporating AV tech has been incredibly helpful, and in some cases, crucial, to help students learn. How could I have supported my student who only spoke Ukrainian without the help of technology with translation capabilities? How could I justifiably describe so many curricular concepts without the help of videos and animations? I mean, I could, but… it would’ve been a lot more difficult and a lot less effective.

Free translate translation web illustration
Translate Translation by Mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

Aptly put by 21st Century AV, “the role of AV technology in classrooms extends far beyond mere tools and gadgets; it represents a transformative shift in education”. The once teacher-driven approach to education becomes student centered in the realm of AV technology classroom integration. The argument could be made for technology and the digital world distracting from or undermining traditional education in some ways, but at this point in history, it’s evident that AV technology has a strong an lasting hold in the classroom. Call it undermining if you wish, but I’d say it’s a bit irrelevant at this point. I’d argue that a better term to use would be transforming what traditional schooling represents, which is probably due for a transformation, anyway.

Shoutout to Michael and Graeme for the great presentation last week!

2 thoughts on “Undermines? You Need to Calm Down.

  1. Hi Christina, I found your post this week very engaging. I like the comparisons you made to traditional education and the idea that traditional does not always have to be the only way. I remember first starting my career and working with some very experienced teachers next door. Because I was finding my groove I tried new ways of teaching including a lot of AV technologies, and at this point I almost felt like I had to close my door when I found a YouTube video that went along with my lessons. The teachers that worked beside me have been in their grade levels for many years, they had the knowledge to lecture and discuss with their students and often didn’t lean into AV tech to support their teaching, me on the other hand had limited knowledge and was able to use my other skills to teach the students. This idea goes back to past weeks when we discussed the idea of who holds knowledge, through using AV technologies, we can also be showing students that knowledge and learning is all around us and that many people are knowledgable in different areas!


  2. Hi Christine,
    In your blog, you mention that you struggle to see as negative how programs like Sesame Street have undermined education and traditional schools. In a certain way, I think this show has undermined the traditional way of schooling because no matter how hard we try, I don’t think that we can transform the education system to be as fun and engaging as it looks on the show. Sesame Street uses colourful characters and interesting stories to captivate the children’s minds. It also uses the media to entertain and educate students at the same time. Schools, on the other hand, use a closed place, which is the classroom, with the teacher as the main source to give the information, and hands-on activities to practice the learned skill. If we asked the students which way they would better prefer to learn, in an environment like Sesame Street or in the classroom with the teacher, I bet they would say Sesame Street. So, the reason why I say it has undermined the traditional education system is because the education system that we have does not make learning as fun and entertaining as the show does.

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